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TenniStory: Entertainer extraordinaire Mansour Bahrami's long road
Through the shadows of hardship emerges a smile tennis fans have come to love.
Published Jun 08, 2019
Mansour Bahrami is known for making people laugh through his captivating showmanship. But while tennis has brought Bahrami profound joy and colorful memories for decades, there was a time when it seemed incomprehensible that he would ever be able to conjure magic with a racquet.
Bahrami grew up in Tehran, Iran, in a 100-square-foot room that his family called home. The room was within a large sports complex, and it was where he would first come to know tennis. Intrigued by the game and wanting nothing more than to play, tennis was out of reach given his family's economic status. That didn't stop Bahrami from picking up a broom or dust pan, and creating his own court with his father.
When the day came that Bahrami got his hands on a real racquet, on a real tennis court, it wasn't the seminal moment one might expect. A former member of the Iranian Davis Cup team who taught tennis gave Bahrami his first racquet—but within moments, the boy laid beaten on the ground by guards, with his racquet crushed beside him.
"This guy took me six or seven times above his head and he smashed me on the ground, I thought that I was going to die," says Bahrami in our TenniStory, which you can watch above. "I begged him, I said please don't touch my racket. He went to my racket, he took my racket and he just put it on the step and he broke it in two."
Fast forward to the 1970s, when Bahrami was welcomed by the Iranian Tennis Federation, given some racquets and allowed to play the sport he was so passionate about. He went on to join the Davis Cup team and became one of the country's best players. But adversity struck again: the Iranian Revolution started in 1977, and tennis, believed to be a form of American capitalism, was barred.
For Bahrami, tennis was more than a game: it brought him joy, hope, and fulfilled his passion. He decided he could not stay in Iran if it meant not playing, so he left for Paris.
In 1981, Bahrami was given a wildcard into pre-qualifying at the French Open. He ran through six matches to reach the main draw. He then defeated a top French player in his first main-draw match, giving him the media recognition that assisted him in eventually renewing his visa.
While Bahrami was unable to play or travel during what would have been the prime of his career, his twenties, he doesn't look back on the events with regret.
"There were some years I was just frustrated because I couldn't travel, I couldn't play, but those days are past and I'm looking ahead."
Today, Bahrami is entertaining crowds, taking the court with tennis legends such as John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, and most importantly, playing the sport he loves. He used to imagine waving to a fully packed arena and smiling. Now he's doing that—and everyone is smiling back.